Gaz Coombes’ provocatively titled third album World’s Greatest Man, inspired by artists such as Frank Ocean to Neu!, instils in me a strange anticipation to experience in the flesh. The crowd seem to share this, as the room grows increasingly warm with every breath of expectation, and there seems to be a lot of expectation. Perhaps best known for fronting britpop trio Supergrass, Gaz Coombes’ solo career seems to be heavily pushed by his musical past, an assumption made by guessing the average age of the crowd to be around 45. Yet, the blue lights flash on and excitement ensues. The small stage is crowded with an array of interesting-looking instruments, leaving a lot for the eyes to unpack. One by one each band member walks on greeted with love from the audience and we begin.
The first song is the self-titled ‘World’s Strongest Man’, making a poignant statement with lyrics like “I wanna be by myself, don’t leave me by myself”. The irony of the name becomes apparent and suddenly a new layer seems to be revealed to his music, a sense of vulnerability. With each song, this becomes clearer; he talks of his daughter with autism and, as he introduces it, “a song about bad habits”, referring to ‘Sh*t, (I’ve done it again)’. The more human he shows himself to be the more the crowd love him, greeting each finish with verbal embrace. It becomes clear that his music speaks to these people, whether it’s through their nostalgia of the past or the empathy they have for the experiences he sings of; it feels empowering.
The bass is magnetic, each song boasts powerful riffs and dissonant chords. Coupled with an electric on-stage chemistry between the musicians and a unique use of sampling and looping, the experience is sonically intriguing. But something seems to fall short, in particular, the use of build-ups that never fully pay off. Standing in this muggy underground room, patience is more a virtue than ever. When dissected, each musician seems to play to perfection but the songs drag on and leave the crowd somewhat underwhelmed. It feels more like people are here to see Gaz than fully immerse themselves in the music.
As we near the end of the set, mild chaos unravels as two members of the crowd collapse, presumably from the heat of the room. Gaz remains calm and sincere in asking if they’re okay, calling for help and passing out water to the crowd. Aside from someone possibly getting hit on the head with a rogue water bottle, the only effect of such disruption seems to be a deeper appreciation for Gaz himself, the crowd cheering as he resumes after making sure all is well. Comically, he takes another hit as the drum machine falters, causing them to restart the song but still, no loss of love. These people seem to truly look up to him.
With such an impressive voice and solid fanbase, the show was sold out, performing live should be a musical climax. Whilst I left feeling connected to Coombes as a fellow human, I felt his album’s complex themes were slightly undermined by the live performance, as the experimental nature of his songs and long setlist created mild agitation in the crowd when combined with sweaty surroundings and several mishaps. There were, however, insanely powerful parts to his set, and his ability to perform excellently despite slip-ups was extremely admirable. I was also moved by how much his music clearly meant to so many people, and the originality it has maintained after a musical career of over 20 years.